Over a Beer:

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One of the many things I appreciate about my favorite local bike shop, Absolute Bikes, is that I can walk in and walk out minutes later with the exact product I need, no matter what it is.

Editor’s Note: “Over a Beer” is a regular column written by Greg Heil. While Greg is the Editor in Chief for Singletracks.com, any opinions expressed in this column are his alone and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Singletracks.com.

As bike shops around the nation continue to close and the bike industry overall posts dismal sales numbers and a drop off in income, the siren cry of avid riders only gets louder: “Support your local bike shop! Buy local! Don’t buy online!”

And honestly, I’m all for local bike shops and injecting money back into my local community, instead of sending it off to some faceless corporation named “Amazon.” But bike shops, if you want to get my hard-earned dollars, you need to have products to sell me–and you need to have them in stock.

“Let me order that for you.”

Nothing jerks my chain more than when I walk into a bike shop, looking to plunk down my precious pennies for a part or accessory I need, and the shop doesn’t have it in stock. Some shops I’ve encountered seem to have nothing in stock, aside from a few inner tubes–and sometimes, not even the right sizes of those!

At that moment, offering to order me a part is the best thing you can do. Instead of just saying, “no, we don’t carry that,” offering to find a solution to my problem is the only way you can respond in that moment that promotes good customer service and looking out for my well being. I get that.

But answer me this: if I’m walking into the shop looking for a bottle of chain lube, Chamois Butt’r, a replacement tire, or a specific type of helmet, why do you think I would have you order that lube/tire/helmet for me? Because you know what? I can order it myself. I can go online, pay less money than you’ll charge me, and have it shipped to my doorstep for free in two days, thanks to Amazon Prime.

Why I’m there in the first place.

A wider range of available options at Absolute Bikes
A wide range of available options at Absolute Bikes

If I’m walking into your shop to buy a product in the first place, I know that I may end up spending a couple extra bucks. I get that. But I’m willing to spend a little extra in order to walk in, and then walk out 5 minutes later with the new tire I need, because I just slashed the side wall on my old one.

I’m willing to pay a couple extra bucks to try the helmet on first, to make sure that it fits my head.

I’m willing to pay for the convenience and accessibility to products that your shop provides.

But if instead of having that product there for me to try, there for me to purchase in that moment and walk out the door with, if you in fact have nothing available, guess what? I’m not going to be buying from you.

The benefit of the brick-and-mortar shop when it comes to retail sales is always going to be the convenience and accessibility factors. But with the advent of Amazon Prime, in order for a bike shop to be more convenient than ordering online, you really have to work hard. You have to provide services to the customer, like the opportunity to dial in the right sizing, get hands-on with a product to see whether or not it lives up to the customer’s expectation, and of course, be able to sell the product to that customer the same day.

We live in an age of instant gratification, but we also live in an age that expects many employees to spend 50, 60, or even more hours per week at work, because they’re “full time” and they have “responsibilities” and “work to be done.” And heck, the hours posted on the front doors of many bike shops are minimal and often sporadic. Even if the bike shop does have the helmet that the customer wants in stock, it could still be more convenient for them to order it off of Amazon and have it show up on their doorstep in two days, instead of taking the time out of their already overtaxed schedule to get away from work, make it down to the bike shop, only to find that actually, the shop doesn’t even carry the product they need.

Heck, Amazon Prime is so convenient that there’ve been times I’ve ordered products off of Amazon in order to save me the 40-minute round-trip drive to Walmart. And if Walmart is having a hard time competing with the convenience of Prime, where do you think bike shops rank?

Caveats

Of course, there are no end of caveats associated with this position:

Caveat #1: If you can’t install the part yourself, don’t buy it off the internet.

I do very little of my own bike maintenance because, when it comes to tasks more advanced than tweaking the barrel adjusters on my derailleurs, I’ve realized that the pro mechanics who’ve been doing it for 30 years are way faster and more precise than I’ll ever be. But if you’re like me and you won’t be installing your new brake set yourself, don’t go buying it off the internet and then taking it to the bike shop to have them install it. Sure, they’ll still do the install (and charge you for it), but many shops A) will provide free install for parts you buy from them, but more importantly, B) this is just bad form. Don’t do it.

Caveat #2: Don’t showroom your local bike shop.

Your local bike shop doesn’t exist for you to try on the latest threads, shoes, and helmets, so you can go and buy those same products for a discount online. If you try it on at the shop and you want to buy it, pay the extra couple of bucks for the assurance the shop has provided that you’re getting the right product in the right size.

Caveat #3: Don’t expect every bike shop to carry every brand.

While we instinctively realize this when it comes to complete bike brands, this same philosophy applies to clothing, components, and accessories. Every single bike shop can’t stock every single product from every single brand. So if you slash a tire on your trip, you may not be able to go to the local bike shop and buy your favorite Maxxis tread. And that’s OK.

But if you go to that same bike shop and want to buy a tubeless ready 3.0″ 27.5+ trail tire with sidewall protection and aggressive lugs, you should be able to buy that tire. If you want to buy a low profile 29×2.25″ race tire, you should be able to get that tire as well. If you need a 4.8″ fat bike tire–same thing. The shop should be able to provide all of those different products for you, even if they aren’t available in the specific brand that you might prefer.

Bottom Line

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I’m all for supporting local bike shops. I have many friends and acquaintances who own shops, and are employed at shops. And I need the other conveniences and services that the shop provides, like maintenance, warranty support, and so much more. But for an LBS to be successful, it needs to realize what it’s up against. It needs to realize what services brick and mortar stores continue to offer even in this age of digital shopping, and double down on those services.

But if you’re about to click on Amazon.com to order me a part, don’t bother–I can do that on my own.

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